Your Rice Could Have Arsenic In It

We love rice. But is rice all good? It could, unfortunately, come laden with arsenic. 

3 min read
Your Rice Could Have Arsenic In It

Rice, a staple for many across the world is said to be one of the safest and easily digestible nutritious foods. It is also an important alternate grain for the wheat or gluten intolerant and those with celiac disease. However, some recent reports on its toxicity, specifically related to arsenic have been a cause of concern.

In a consumer report in the US, analysis of US federal health data found that people who ate rice had arsenic levels that were 44 percent greater than those who did not.  Certain ethnic groups like Asians and Mexicans were more affected. A study by the European Food Safety Authority found that cereal products, and in them majorly rice, could account for more than half of all dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic.

Rice Absorbs More Arsenic

Rice absorbs more arsenic from soil (Photo: iStockphoto)

Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more than most other plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allows arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains.

Arsenic is found in water, air, food and soil in both, the organic and inorganic form. The inorganic forms of arsenic cause more long term health effects.

The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has found arsenic content in over 30 samples of Indian basmati rice in its preliminary analysis. USFDA will now analyse about 1,200 samples of rice from different countries including India to examine the issue thoroughly.

How Bad is Arsenic?

Arsenic can cause both short and long term effects (Photo: iStockphoto)

Arsenic is a potent human carcinogen that can cause health problems for children later in life. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is linked to skin, bladder, lung cancers, as well as heart diseases.

When exposed to arsenic in low intensity, one cam feel nausea, vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of ‘pins and needles’ in hands and feet. Ingesting or breathing low levels of inorganic arsenic for a long time can cause a darkening of the skin and the appearance of small “corns” or “warts” on the palms, soles, and torso. There is some evidence that long-term exposure to arsenic in children may even result in lower IQ scores.

Does Brown Rice Have More Arsenic?

Interestingly, the average total and inorganic arsenic levels have been found to be higher for brown rice than for white.

Time to change our rice eating habits? Not yet (Photo: iStockphoto)

The process of polishing rice to produce white rice removes those surface layers, slightly reducing the total arsenic in the grain. In brown rice, only the hull is removed. The arsenic concentration that is removed with the bran during the milling process to produce white rice can be 10 to 20 times higher than found in bulk rice grain. This also makes arsenic in rice bran oil, a concern.

Nevertheless, rice is an important and nutritious staple for many people and It may be premature to draw conclusions regarding changes in eating habits. Infact, so far the USFDA is not recommending changes in consumption of rice and rice products. According to them, consumers must eat a balanced diet including a wide variety of grains, not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.

(The author is clinical nutritionist and Founder,, Whole Foods India, and Founder President, Celiac Society of India)


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